It seems that every day there’s a new story of an E. coli or Salmonella outbreak in the news. The CDC says 1 out of every 6 people in the United States will get sick with a food borne illness this year. What’s going on? Why do we hear about food poisoning cases so often? Scientists at the US Department of Agriculture have stumbled across a big part of the answer. Put simply—people don’t wash their hands.
USDA scientists made a video to explain how to properly use a meat thermometer. To determine how useful the video would be, the team gathered a group of volunteers and showed half the video. All the volunteers were then sent into the test kitchen to prepare turkey burgers that had been contaminated with a harmless virus. Not surprisingly, 75% of the video watching group attempted to use the thermometer. Only 34% of those who didn’t watch tried to use a thermometer. But what did surprise the scientists was that participants in both groups rarely if ever washed their hands during the cooking process. In fact, 98% didn’t take the time to perform the most basic step in safe food handling.
When scientists tested kitchen surfaces after the volunteers had finished cooking they found the spiked bacteria everywhere. People would handle the raw meat, then touch other items in the kitchen without washing their hands. The bacteria was found on the salt, pepper, and other spice containers. Counters and utensils were contaminated. But most dangerous of all, people would handle the raw meat then handle other food without washing up. 5 percent of lettuce in the salad had been contaminated by dirty hands. Properly washing your hands is the simplest step in stopping the spread of food poisoning. How often do you wash yours?